Monday, January 26, 2009

Smackdown at the oldschool

Oldschool country: dead giveaway
Originally uploaded by V'ron
There is some kind of nasty stomach virus going around, and it gave me the double smackdown in the latter part of the weekend. That's why I'm late with posting. I spent Sunday, well, I'll stop telling you about this virus before I get tagged with TMI. It was coming on early in the week -- so Brian took Sammy to a ball game Wednesday in "the big stadium" and Sammy got some kind of free swag, loved the intro lights, and thought the 30+ lead win was "awesome."

I finally got myself over to Kochanski's Concertina Hall Friday night to catch a "dueling bands" kind of smackdown. The Lumberhorn had the stage on the west side of the floor, and on the east side there was Madison's Pupy Costello and his Big City Honky Tonk. Excellent pairing. In a way, this was comparing oranges to apples -- after all, while both could be considered Americana, the Lumberhorn are bluegrass, and Pupy Costello is genuine honky-tonk country. Setting the tone was a guy from a band called "God's Outlaw" who was pluggin his show for the following night at Puddler's Hall -- and the tagline on his flyer said it all: "Because today's country ain't country." That's been my complaint about "today's country" (I've been calling it nu-country for some time now.) I'm thoroughly convinced that people who claim they hate country music haven't listened to real country done by people who love it. Those people need to seek out a Pupy Costello show.

Pupy Costello and his Big City Honky Tonk is a band whose sound could be compared to Hank Williams, and if you need me to actually specify "Senior" then you've missed the point. Pupy Costello himself has that combination of humble country warmth and politeness with a swagger that brought to mind the Brad Pitt character in Thelma and Louise. If he stole 5K right out of your purse you'd shrug it off because he was so charming about it. He sings with a rich country tenor that every now and then breaks into a Mr. Haney-style yodel, and his band -- comprised of pedal steel guitar, fiddle, standup bass and trapset -- are equally authentic as they take on the Hank, the Johnny Paycheck, all the usual suspects.

Channeling the ghost of Hank
Originally uploaded by V'ron.

And they're having a ball doing it, especially in this place that Kochanski has worked to turn into a celebratory hall, dedicated to the kind of music that makes people want to dance, to share some beers, to sing along. Kochanski understands that polka music -- the original mainstay of the bar -- has those same traits, but oldschool country (and the rockabilly, surf and other bands he's brought in there) has so much in common with the people's music of polka that it works. It fits, because it's still a oldcountry-style beer hall. By the end of the night, after they had pretty much exhauseted a set of convincing originals and spot-on honky tonk ocvers, nobody blinked an eye as Costello put on a spaceman mask and chugged out an AC/DC tune.

The format of two bands all set up and ready to go works, too. The Lumberhorn (again, whose wonderfulness and warmth I already take for granted) were just finishing their first set when I arrived, and Costello's band barely missed a beat to begin playing as soon as the Lumberhorn put down their instruments. No need to turn on the house music, here. The bands were the house music, and there was no clear winner to the smackdown.

Saturday night I called Marlavous for a girls' night out, and we began our odyssey with the Bucks, who brought the smackdown against the Sacramento Kings again. Pretty good crowd, and again, the rendering of the Anthem seemed to mirror what would happen in the evening. It was the Bristol Middle School choir. Here we have a lot of talent, but they didn't choose an arrangement that suited them. Yes, their sopranos hit the high notes perfectly, but they were drowned out by a lower voice section that, while OK, was arranged to have descending notes. A well-balanced high school choir could have pulled this off, but unfortunately, the descending notes on these kids made their sopranos sound pitchy, which they weren't.

And that's the way the Bucks played. Either they were hitting their shots and messing up on the defense, or, especially in the case of Luke Ridenour, they weren't hitting their normal shots -- but at least Ridenour made up for it with some crucial defensive moves. Unfortunately, one of those defensive moves included the smackdown on Michael Redd, and now Redd's out for the season. It didn't seem so bad at the Bradley Center: he was just limping off the court. Last time I witnessed a torn ACL up close (not to mention the wrecked MCL that Redd is also suffering though), it was my DH and he couldn't even stand up, and it was the most wretched look of pain I'd ever seen anybody have in my life. So it was a complete surprise to me that Redd is hurt as badly as he is. Bittersweet win here.

Marla and I still had a good time. We stayed politely in our seats at halftime (albeit gossiping) while watching the Bello Brothers: two men in suggestive outfits, a chair, and lots of amazing flipping and balancing. And we thrilled to the Force -- those standard break dancers who take that 80s art form to a whole new level. Good thing they didn't break out the big guns (in the form of the Rim Rockers), since the game was so tight all the way through. For once, we didn't need to be distracted.

Most of the Bloodstones
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Marla made the picks for some of the evening's post-game entertainment. We started the post-game evening in West Allis, at a lil' joint called the Lil' Downtown Lounge. The bar itself glows red from the lighting underneath a transclusent covering, and that gave the whole place a warm, friendly, yet elegant atmosphere. It's the kind of place you'd meet for drinks, and then notice, "Hey, there's a band here. Hey, and they're good." The band playing was the Bloodstones -- a blues combo fronted by guitarist Tommy Blood. The background is that Blood started out as a Rolling Stones cover band, and his love for the Rolling Stones is still evident -- they started out their second set with a pile of Glimmer twins tunes. But when we walked in, he was doing what should really be his draw -- lots of Johnny Winter style blues improvisation. Very intense, very precise oldschool blues picking on a minstrel-style guitar that seemed to match his style, a brass pickguard that while oxidized with use, produced a rich sound.

At Marla's insistence, we headed to another West Allis bar called Bunkers, and I have to tell you, it was a nice place with nice people, but this was 20 musical minutes I'll never get back. The draw? Two guys with what amounted to a karaoke machine singing for the crowd, in a smackdown of sorts. One of them was a terrific Neil Diamond impersonator, I'll give him that. He had that grindy low register, and managed to light up the crowd almost as well as the Jewish Elvis himself could have done. The other guy was just a dude with a fairly OK voice and stage presence, who invited Dave Alswager to join him on a version of Tommy Roe's "Dizzy." That was disastrous. Alswager's hysterical take on it was to sing it in the style of Jimi Hendrix -- and that was spot on -- but dude didn't get it, started apologizing to the audience, who subsequently didn't get it either, and all I could do was ask in horrified disbelief, "People can get paid for this?"

We made it to Club Lulu in Bayview in time to catch the last few songs of Brother Louie's set. I've written about BL before -- they're just a cool little cover band whose set list criteria seems to be only that it's a good song. This makes sense, what with Louie Lucheesi on vocals and Johnny Washday on bass -- Washday pretty much invented the idea of kitchen sink sets in this town. Too bad that aforementioned GI tract virus was starting to kick in, aggravated by watching the sports highlights of Michael Redd stumbling off the court in agonizing pain. As such, we didn't make it to Points East for a set from the wonderful Crumpler.

The sports pundits are decrying the end of the Bucks now, but I'm not giving up faith. After all, Redd was out for a good part of the beginning of the season, and they still won games. Brian just left with Stella for tonight's bout against Minnesota, and I still think that it's Bogut's absence that's going to hurt them tonight, not Redd's.

Up on the docket for this coming week:
  • The Bra Project from Danceworks, which is getting good reviews from both the MSM and the underground press. As it's going to be February before I get another peek at the Milwaukee ballet, this should satisfy my jones for some good dance.

  • The Paul Collins Beat this Thursday at Club Garibaldi! I remember when they were just "The Beat" but then the English Beat came out and they renamed themselves so people woudln't get confused. (My college buddy, Pansy Division's Jon Ginoli, asked at the time, "Why does the Beat have to change their name? Why can't The English Beat rename themselves to The English Paul Collins?") Anyway, remember "I Wanna Be With a Rock and Roll Girl"? That's them! Perfect early 80s power pop at its underground best.

  • Saturday night I'm hitting the road with Marlavous -- it's "Winter Dance Party" season and this time I'm not going to see it in another hotel banquet center in Milwaukee. No, I can't wait to shoot this nostalgic extravaganza at the Weill center in Sheboygan. I'm told it's a magnificent theatre, and besides the usual suspects (Shurilla doing his Buddy Holly thang, Marlavous doing her girl group schtick) the Liam Ford band will be there, and they're a rockabilly treat. All they need is an Elvis impersonator and they're golden.

Also, a save the date notice -- February 14 at Miramar is sort of a Valentine sendoff for Atomic Records. Lots of great local bands reuniting to pay tribute to one of the few institutions in town that provided unwavering support for the local music scene. Already on the bill is Liquid Pink, Sometime Sweet Susan, the Lovelies, the Deek Lick, Boy Dirt Car, heck, even Liquid Pink is reuniting for this show. It's going to be a terrific show, I just wish the reason it's happening wasn't happening.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Venturing out from Winter Whining

I'll admit it: I was a wimp during the cold snap. The kids didn't have school Thursday and Friday, so I really saw no reason to leave the house. It's not like I don't own a good winter coat and hat and mittens, I just had no reason to go out. By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, though, we had ferocious cabin fever, such that I took advantage of the family's Discovery World membership, parked in the heated garage, and let the kids run loose petting sea animals, testing simple machines, and laying on a bed of nails. Normally, I would have hit Gallery Night -- and by all accounts it would have been worth it -- but with two kids with me, if I had to park more than two blocks away from the cluster of galleries I wanted to see, I would have --and consequently did -- blow it off. And all three galleries were in the Third Ward: did I really think I was going to strike parking gold? Yeah, right.
Saturday's heat wave got me out of the house, though. And as I've been looking forward to it, I accompanied my DH to Liquor Sweets. The setup at Liquor Sweets was in full tilt: a heavy death metal festival in the large ballroom upstairs; Dr Chow and Ekko Galaxie and the Rings of Saturn at the "Globe South" room downstairs. One cover charge gets you in the whole building, even though most people chose to go either up or downstairs. I wasn't sure how this one cover for the whole building thing would play out.

As Paul "The Fly" Lawson said, Ekko Galaxie were indeed the darlings of Trash Fest this year, and we were all dying to see what they would come up with for a full set. Dr Chow opened, and were steadfast as usual. They're putting a lot more country into the act, but they're not completely serious about it: I finally got to hear their take on Canyonero and was happy to see that the crowd got it. This crowd would probably have enjoyed more of the psychedelic blues that Dr Chow does so well: they were jumping at a great version of "Psychotic Reaction" and needless to say, they were overjoyed and packing the dance floor when the introductory syncopated riffs of T-Rex's "Jeepster" were played.

ekko and mick ronson stand in
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Ekko Galaxie and the Rings of Saturn is a band that knows their glam and lives it, that's for sure. Even when the Bowie clone arrived, before applying makeup and hairstyle, he was dressed for winter correctly -- in a smashing full-length double breasted dark blue wool coat that signified even off stage, he lives this life -- since the only people who would have seen this were band people at load-in time. But the whole band dresses up and looks precisely the part. And the set list isn't just Bowie. They handle Sweet, Mott the Hoople, T Rex with equal precision, and covers of Roxy Music, Eno (with a particularly blistering guitar solo on "Baby's on Fire") and even Hedwig and the Angry Inch also get the treatment. Ekko Galaxie himself throws on a pair of aviator sunglasses when he goes into Lou Reed's "Vicious" -- there is no glam stone unpolished by this bunch. Their love for the genre is evident, and shared by everybody in the room. People are calling for the Bowie, of course, since it's the most familiar, but there were enough glam purists in the audience (among them, Darrell "Da Brains" Martin) to smile appreciatively when the introductory strains of "Virginia Plain" were played. And on top of it all, they've got the charisma, moxie, and stage presence to keep glam fans happy. They don't just play this music, they perform it, and that's one of the funnest part of glam.

About half of this band is originally from Minneapolis -- and they were even more surprised than I was that this kind of tribute band hasn't already existed here in brew town. They're just getting started here, and if there's any criticism to be made at this point, it isn't about anything that won't self-correct in a few hardworking months. They need to tighten it up a bit -- and that will come with playing together, getting used to playing as a band more, and seasoning themselves with more gigs and outings in Milwaukee. Right now, we're all happy to see somebody touching this stuff -- when was the last time you walked into a bar to see a bunch of androgynous guys take on a TRex song besides "Bang a Gong"? But round about the time we as an audience will start demanding they nail the break in "Virginia Plain" they should be able to deliver. What will also come with time is their confidence to make this music their own. They're excellent copycats today -- I'm looking forward to when they evolve into excellent artists in their own right. I -- along with the majority of the audience -- had a terrific time just being happy to hear these young ones take on the music that got me through high school and college, and I'm impressed with how deep their knowledge of the genre is. Bravo, guys! Now: get yourselves a web presence. They're not even on myspace yet, or Facebook (I looked.) How am I -- or any of your fans -- going to know when to catch you next? I'll just die if I miss your next show.

Lockjaw singer
Originally uploaded by V'ron.
Spotted in the crowd: prog priestess Julie Brandenburg, who talked me into going upstairs to the actual Liquor Sweets stage to check out her friends in Lockjaw, a band I saw about two years ago that at the time left me a bit underwhelmed after the shock of the sideshow act they featured wore off. But I'm glad I checked them out last night. For one thing, musically, they've vastly improved. The songs are distinctive from each other, and since they didn't have the sideshow act with them, they had to depend on their own stage presence and delivery -- and perhaps that forced them to step it up. Lockjaw doesn't need the sideshow anymore. They're absolutely tight musicians, they have a strong song catalog, and they have this whole "hell rock" thing in the palm of their hands. It's not my thing, but dammit (or damn them, as I'm sure they'd prefer) they were good at it. They certainly could hold their own opening for NiN, Manson, Skinny Puppy, or any of the other death metal bands in their niche. In fact, they're tight enough that with good management, they'll be headlining similar shows in a couple of years. Particularly impressive was -- even though they clearly have some pre-recorded backup help -- how much sonic thunder guitarist Jos3 and drummer Johnny can put out by themselves when singer Medavon puts down his guitar to just sing. And, unlike many cookie monster-style vocalists of this genre, Medavon actually carries a tune over all the screams he puts out. He's sinister looking, backs up that look with lyrical content you'd expect ("Call me the devil!" I picked out of one of the songs) and, fundamentally, they rock. Again, I'm glad I checked them out: it was like giving them another chance -- and without a giant band or a sideshow distracting attention they withstood critical muster, especially from somebody like me who isn't into their subgenre to begin with. Good show, gentlemen. Maybe this whole Liquor Sweets concept of paying once for the whole joint and getting totally different forms of entertainment is going to work after all. I certainly got my money's worth.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Spazz in the Dark

I was on the phone today with the fabulous jazzscattin' diva Deirdre Fellner, and by coincidence noticed a hot topic on Twitter: coincidence because the last time I wrote about either Deirdre OR Jazz in the Park I was writing about both at the same time. And, well, since everybody else in the Milwaukee Music blogosphere is writing about this today, I might as well throw my $.02 in.

If you haven't heard already, broke the story today that there will be no more carry-ins to Jazz in the Park. Compujeramey then followed up with his take on the situation in a very level-jeaded way, but I have to agree with the Accidental Wisconsinite's headline for her blog entry, Jazz In the Park Shoots Itself In The Foot.

Quick sypnosis: Jazz in the Park holds a license to serve liquor -- but only from its vendors. Thus, the only people who can technically BRING liquor there ARE the vendors. This law's been on the books forever, only today did they decide to enforce it.

Part of the coolness of JITP is packing a picnic basket, and (as I wrote two summers ago) filling it with elegant treats such as cheeses, lovely little wines, or as this family is enjoying, jumbo margaritas. Then you sit back, hang with your peeps, and enjoy jazz (and that's debated, but on a given night, it is jazz) and muse about how urbane this town can be when it wants to be. Indianapolis has a similar night, like Milwaukee, it's an unexpected surprise in towns not known for their urbanity.

I have to agree with compujeramey in that this probably has to do more with revenue-raising, and with accidental wisconsinite that it's really shooting itself in the foot. Maybe JITP is getting too crowded and this is a way to drive people away. I'm seeing comments everywhere from Twitter to onmilwaukee that basically say "Great, JITP was a place to have a nice bottle of wine or premium beer without having to pay $7 for it."

I'm unclear as to why it's still perfectly OK to bring a bottle to the Concerts in the Gardens at Boerner, or to Chill on the Hill at Humboldt Park. Maybe the rule is still there, but simply not enforced. Or maybe the sponsoring organizations don't have a vendor license that forces them to control all alcohol consumption. Either way, I don't need a bottle of vino to enjoy an evening of music with my family, but it's goes beyond that. It's put a damper on one of the things that make Milwaukee livable. Think of it -- JITP wasone of those things that showed we weren't all about brats and beer all the time. (Not that we're not that some of the time, but we had our artisan cheese side, too.) It was genteel, it was classy.

Well, I'll just start compensating. JITP, as I wrote two summers ago, was getting too crowded anyway. And it was starting to get predictable. They haven't brought fabulous Deirdre back anyway. And parking was getting to be ridiculous anyway.

No, I can't compensate for this. It still sucks. The bright side is that maybe more folks will venture out to the other places in town where Milwaukee County sponsors free music in the parks during the summer: the aforementioned Humboldt and Boerner locations, along with Washington Park, Jackson Park, and even Lake Park. This might even encourage more neighborhood-based gatherings, and spread that livability factor to more neighborhoods, while people who are tired of a $7 cup of swill (especially in this economy) can bring a schpack of their favorite (cheap) brew and still hep it up with the cool cats on stage.

In other news on this cold, cold day, Trolley wasted no time in getting a tribute to the recently departed Ricardo Montalban up on their site. Great dangerous surf tune that had me hollering "KHAAAAAAANNNNNN!" at the computer.

And while you already know I've been buzzing about the Ekko Galaxie and the Rings of Saturn show this Saturday at Liquor Sweets (a night of glam, Bowie style), I totally forgot that I'm going to have to brave the cold tomorrow (Friday) for Winter Gallery night. Mary Lousie Schumacher in the Journal Sentinel will have good picks, to be sure, as well as Mike Brenner picking some cream for you in the Decider. Here's a couple they may have missed:

  • Philo will have a solo show at Soup's On -- that joint on Water Street in the Third Ward with a gallery in the front, and good food in the back. He's been around shooting photos for almost two decades, and this is his first solo show.

  • The Bay View Arts Guild will be right across the street at the Pyramax Bank -- and that includes favorites of mine including Linda Beckstrom (painting on silk) and Amy Olson (last time I saw her work, she was using oil on canvas). The BVAG comes downtown! Woo!

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to pop open a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and drink to Jazz in the Park of Seasons Past.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Disasters, Grand and otherwise

Disastrously Grand
Originally uploaded by V'ron
OK, let's start with the bad news first, the news that pretty much every musician in the city is tearing up about: the fire at Rockhaus Guitars. Czeltic Girl reports on the damage: a news story puts it at around $100K, but we all know it's more than that.

Rockhaus Guitars holds a special place with our family. It was started by Brian's good friend Greg Kurczewski, and current owner Rusty Olson took over when Greg moved out of town. Rusty has always lovingly maintained my guitars, he's sold our family pretty much all our guitars and amplifiers, and we've always gotten fair, honest and professional service from him. From advice on parts and accessories, to just being able to shoot the breeze about instruments, the music scene in town, or the latest releases from favorites, it's always a treat going to the Rockhaus.

And yes, I know that most of his stock can be replaced with insurance proceeds, but that doesn't fill the gap blown wide open by the vaporization of some of the wonderful, collectible memorabilia that dotted the place. All our hearts are breaking for him. Any kind of fire is devastating because it does wipe out so much -- it's not just stuff, it's memories, a sense of place, a certain security. Thank God nobody was physically hurt.

Of course, lots of musicians are already queuing up to help out, and in this town, that means benefit. As in, get a pile of great bands together, get a club date, and turn the door money over to him.
According to Czelticgirl, Rusty's asking folks to stand down on that, but I'll remind him that a musician's benefit isn't just about the money. All of us in the music community feel the pain when one of us suffers a loss like this, and even if it's all covered by insurance, I suspect people all want to get together in a room and make sure Rusty knows his business honesty and passion is appreciated.

Earlier in the weekend, I finally got out to see The Grand Disaster, a band I mistakenly thought was "The Mark E Lee Show." The Grand Disaster is a terrific band that goes beyond Americana punk/garage. They use the almost country, rockabilly sound as a baseline, but add great pop melodies, a touch of garagey anthems and a healthy dollop of bravado to render what I'm going to call three minute epics. That's right, they have a truly grand and glorious sound that you normally hear in compositions like Guns N' Roses' more ambitious moments (like "November Rain") but they clock in at pop song timing and they sing with a sincerity that comes from the gut. Guitarists Billy Orphan and Pat O'Neill (who I remember from FSFI) take turns singing lead with bassist Mark Miller (who everybody knows as Mark E Lee), but the band hangs together cohesively. The only weakness at the Riverwest Commons Friday night was that this band needs a good soundman. A lot of their songs have a wide dynamic range, and that's difficult to get across when you have to set your amps at one level and keep them there all night.

They were followed by Edgar Allen Cash, an enjoyable combo fronted by Riverwest denizen Desmond Bone (with the infamous James "Tess" Tessier on bass). True to the Cash moniker, they covered the man in black with appropriate reverence and authenticity, and Bone's gravely voice rang true with Creedence covers as well. They opened with "Born on the Bayou" which brought me back in from a minor disaster. Bone had joined the Grand Disaster for their final song, a take on Cash's "Ring of Fire", done with the style and tempo (read: fast) of Social Distortion's version. It wasn't rehearsed with Bone, and that unfortunately showed. It wasn't Bone's key, so his normally appealing scratch simply sounded horribly off-key, and he had to work twice as hard in his own set to redeem himself, which he managed to do. But in a weekend of disasters, this was admittedly the mildest. Round about midnight, the bar ran out of PBR's, official beer of the Grand Disaster and we had to make do with Heinekens, forcing us all to recite that line from Blue Velvet while we all offered Miller various bribes in exchange for the shirt off his back.
At least the Bucks pulled off a victory over the New Jersey Nets, but that was a game we sold our tix to. So at least once again, our friends Shelli and her beau got their money's worth. Heard that Yi was booed by the Milwaukee crowd when he was introduced, and I'm rather disappointed about that. C'mon Milwaukee, this isn't Brett Favre leaving us. This is a rookie who was traded after his debut season. He didn't do anyting bad to us, had only nice things to say when he left, and didn't really render any damage Friday night. Why the boos?

Coming up this weekend, lots of good stuff. The Julie B Well plays a set at the Art Bar Thursday night: a good place to catch some sublime prog. The Brew City Bruisers have a roller derby bout this Saturday, and I'll highly recommend hitting Liquor Sweets afterwards, but not just because my husband is playing there that night. No, Dr Chow's Love Medicine is only the opening band. The headliner is that wonderful glam tribute/cover band, Ekko Galaxie and the Rings of Saturn. I gushed about them before, when they only got 20 minutes to blow us all away at Trash Fest. Now we're getting a full set of great glam from Bowie, T-Rex, Sweet -- complete with rock steady authenticity and costumes to match. Why hasn't somebody done this before? Who doesn't love a well-played Bowie tune?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Philly Cheesehead Stakes

You're Never Too Old to Play
Originally uploaded by V'ron
Another post-Girl-Scout-meeting Bucks game, this time against Philly, and ugh, another loss. And this was a hearbreaking one, as I wasn't sure going in if the Bucks even had a chance, what with Bogut being out with back spasms an all. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to the game because, my friends, I do believe there's actually a buzz about our boys. People are starting to say their names in the same sentence as the word "playoffs" and those sentences don't have phrases in them like "probably not this year."

And what a starting lineup: Danny G, starting? Mbah a Moute starting too. And while the start of the game was slow (they were down 8-zip before they put one in), they quickly started to put Philly in their place and it was looking to be a good tight game.

Things started out with a particularly genteel anthem, delivered by the Guadet Brass Quintet. Much more elegant than, perhaps a Salvation Army brass band, this quintet gave us a veddy, veddy British sounding arrangement. Think: the trumpet solo in "Penny Lane." I didn't even cheer after that, I politely applauded by clapping my right hand into the left. It seemed, well, appropriate.

By halftime, the Bucks had a good, but not overwhelming lead, but the momentum was on their side. And halftime was just delightfully inspiring, too. They brought back those wonderfully active seniors, the guys from The Village At Manor Park. Two teams' worth of 60-80 year old guys are out there on the court, playing a game that would have given my 40something keyster a challenge. Granted, half of them are related (either children or grandchildren) to people who make their living being active, or they made their living that way in their youth. But still, I remember folks this age being discouraged from pushing it really hard on any kind of court. This is lovely to see. I have to wonder what the waiting list for The Village At Manor Park is as a retriement home. If more people see more of this, you can bet it will soon be like the waiting list for Bozo's Circus. I wouldn't mind spending my later years at a place where they encourage people to shoot hoops, dance up a storm and generally get old without having to be old.

And the Bucks should have watched carefully, because these guys did NOT let up on the D, like the Bucks did toward the end. Stella and I even waited for a full time out to get our late game treat, and when we came back they were still ahead. But it's like they pooped out. Coach Skiles delivered the ultimate insults in today's Journal-Sentinel today, comparing them to the dismal and recent Bucks teams. That would shake me out of complacency, too.

Close games have to be winning games, guys. You can not just give up. You have to take it all the way down. As I write this, I'm staring a poster they gave away a few years back -- it featured snapshots of a bunch of buzzer-beating wins and the thrill that comes from them. It was kind of like the BBQ Pork Nachos I had. I haven't had those in while, and I remember them tasting a lot better than they did last night. Maybe the onions were a little too re-conned or something.

But Bucks, if you're going to blow an 8-point lead and tease us with a comeback anyway, you need to deliver. The stakes aren't quite high yet, but if you still want people to buzz about you without using phrases like "also rans" you have to get it together.

In the meantime, weekend lineup is looking good. Everybody's starting to recover from NYE parties. I'll be heading to the Riverwest Commons on Friday to finally -- finally catch Mark E Lee and the Grand Disaster. Looks to be an entire night of punk Americana on Locust street. If they weren't playing, I'd most certainly be at Shank Hall for Chief -- because it's Milwaukee Metal Dave's birthday! Plus, Tommy from Revolush will be sitting in on a few choice Chief songs.

Plus, down at the Cactus Club, a 1956 show crept up on me -- they haven't played these parts in a while. And Saturday, it's time to relax and party with the rockabilly of Liam Ford and the Band in Black, at Smokin' Joes at 61st and Beloit in, as they say, 'Stallis.

In the meantime, mark your calendars for February 21 at Liquor Sweets. This will be a benefit for "Doc" Pfaff, who was shot during that armed robbery at Kochanski's Concertina hall. Organizer Barbara Meyer-Speidell probably says it best: "No one should be injured while giving the gift of music."

Sunday, January 04, 2009

At the good ol hockey game....

only in wisconsin....
Originally uploaded by V'ron
I have to admit, it's been a long, long (too long, I should add) time since I've been to a Milwaukee Admirals hockey game, or any hockey, for that matter, and it's my loss. Believe it or not, it was the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast that got me into the Bradley Center for an icy evening Saturday night.

This was the big Girl Scout Cookie Sale kickoff for the girls. They let us in at 4ish, so that the girls could "play cookie games, do cookie trivia" and actually try the cookies themselves. This was the first time they'd done such a thing, and it was quite ambitious. There were some things that worked well (the cookie tasting stations), and the stations that had more complicated activities didn't work so well if you had a large troop trying to navigate its way around the BC. Still, it was fun. And while I made fun of the concept in advance ("There's nothing like a brutal hockey game to get our sweet little girls all fired up to hustle cookies!" I'd told the parents) I have to admit it turned out great. The right-before-they-go-back-to-school timing pretty much forced this to be a girls and their families event, and that was very sweet, indeed.

But really, I'm so proud of our girls because they really had a good time at -- and really got into -- the actual hockey game. There was some Disney singer chick that was in the lobby, but our girls didn't seem to care. They were more interested in getting to our seats, and then it was what a good sports event is for kids -- a time to hang out with friends and family, shoot the breeze, and best of all, have permission to jump and yell and scream your head off.

Yes, the few thousand girls who were there -- many of whom I would hazard to guess were experiencing their first hockey game -- really brought home the meaning of home ice advantage. When the "Make Noise" and/or "Scream" instructions lit up the Jumbotron, the thousands of cookie-sugar-high girls happily obliged, with their ear-splitting high pitched little and big girl voices nearly cracking the ice. You'd think the freaking Jonas Brothers had suited up for a hockey game when the Admirals had skated into the arena for warmups.

And the Peoria Rivermen (second-- and thanks to last night's victory --now third in our division, behind the Admirals) gave us a good game. There was no scoring until late in the second period, and one of our Brownies (who turned out to be quite the hockey fan) wasn't surprised.

Best of all, after all these years, it seems that hockey has given up on this whole trying to clean up its image thing. They don't play up the fights (I had to explain the old Rodney Dangerfield joke to the girls, you know the one about how he "went to the fights... and a hockey game broke out") but they don't sweep them under the rug, either. In fact, they show a few in the opening clip montage. It's obvious that the league can't deny that that fans almost expect (but don't admit) to see at least one fight any more than NASCAR can deny its fans almost expect (but don't admit) to see at least one multi-car pile-up (complete with a few flipping 360).

Rather, they keep it clean (well, mostly -- the home fans still greet the opposing goalie by chanting "You Suck" at the beginning of the game) and let hockey be hockey. It wasn't until that goal in the second period that I was also reassured that the opposing goalie had to endure a chant of "Sieve! Sieve! Sieve!" when the Admirals scored.

New traditions that have popped in since I was last in the BC for hockey:
  • The Merkt's Cheese race: The Admirals' answer to the Brewers' Sausage races. Out of all the attempts to play on those Brewer sausages (and I've seen some really pathetic attempts by pretty much every other Wisconsin team), this one works the best and makes the most sense. Hockey season is winter party season, and everybody has a tub of that spreadable cheese, almost as much as everybody is grilling sausages in the summer. They're also distinctive colors, so you can cheer your favorite flavor. Plus, in keeping with the hockey crowd, was it just me, or were the tubs of cheese actually checking each other?

  • The Human Hockey Puck: Oh my, this was rich. Our hockey seasoned Brownie explained it to the rest of us. There's four contestants, and they get seated on what looks like a saucer sled, and loaded into a giant slingshot on one end of the ice. They get flung across the ice into a set of giant bowling pins set up. Best bowling score wins. In case of a tie, the crowd votes (and since it was weighted, yes, the Girl Scout won.)

  • Two intermission entertainment packages:I seem to remember they didn't use to bother with having entertainment at both between-period intermissions. Or maybe tonight was special. They had these people in those blow-up suits that I've always kind of not gotten the point of. Is it that we all KNOW that they're clearly hard to navigate, and thus fun to watch the actors inside mess up? I really don't get it, but this troupe -- with an animal theme -- at least had some kind of schtick going that kept the crowd amused. There was even one shaped like a clam that ended up "eating" the real human, but still. Not my cup of tea, but I'm at least impressed that they tried to make something of both intermissions besides just playing the Zamboni song.

  • Call and response:Clearly a new(er) crowd tradition (Give me a break, I told you, it's been at least ten years) -- when the one minute warning for each period is announced, the crowd says in a sarcastically tired voice, "Thank you!" as if to say "Duh! We can read the jumbotron!" And the cowbells that seem to accompany nearly every winter sport are acknowledged with the playing of the Christopher Walken Cowbell Sketch.

But as I said, best of all, it was a great family event that wasn't -- and didn't need to be -- overly sanitized. Sports are what they are, and hockey is what it is. It turned out to be just the thing to get a bunch of girls fired up to sell cookies, and it was fun to watch the girls realize they had permission to let their hair down and get a little crazy. They were jumping about and screaming to the music and the promotions and dancing about and letting it rip, which was good for them. You could tell they had fun, because they made us stay until the bitter end, despite the lateness and their ensuing exhaustion. The proof was in Stella's reaction when we got home: "Mom, we should go to more hockey games." She's right.